|Monastery Accused of Taking Man's $1.6 Million
By Jay Tokasz
September 13, 2010
When Eric E. Hoyle entered a monastery in Allegany County in 2005 expecting to become a Benedictine monk, he turned over just about everything he had to the monastery.
Operators of Most Holy Family Monastery in the rural Town of Fillmore accepted about $1.6 million from the former Maryland schoolteacher, who was 25 years old at the time.
But a disenchanted Hoyle ended up leaving the monastery after a couple of years, and soon after, he sued in federal court to get the money back.
The messy legal case has the potential to become a battle over religious freedom.
The former teacher is charging that the monastery and its two primary representatives, Frederick and Robert Dimond, simply defrauded him out of his fortune.
Hoyle claims the Dimonds lied about how the monastery was operated and about the religious principles to which they adhered.
Hoyle learned only after transferring his wealth that the monastery wasn't part of the ancient Catholic Order of St. Benedict, which meant that he could not become a true Benedictine monk there, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Western District of New York.
"The issue is whether or not these guys are really Benedictine monks," K. Wade Eaton, Hoyle's lawyer, said in an interview.
Eaton declined to comment further, but in court papers, he also alleges that the Dimonds are running a racketeering scheme to defraud the public through their Web site, mailings and publications.
Charles Ritter, a lawyer for the Dimonds, said Hoyle was hardly duped into joining the monastery or making the gift.
"It's not like they went and found him. He went out and found them," Ritter said. "They didn't tell him he had to give them everything. It was a decision he made ... He knew what he was doing. He was not misled. He was very well read and up to speed on what their beliefs were."
The Dimonds additionally maintain that the courts and government have no say in determining who exactly is a Benedictine monk.
"It's a First Amendment right that we can profess to be Benedictines, and we believe we are," says Robert Dimond, in an audio recording on the monastery's Web site. "The state can't determine that, the government can't determine that. It can't rule on who is or who is not a Benedictine, just like it can't determine what is a true church or define what a church is, OK. It doesn't get entangled in those religious disputes."
The two brothers have fired back with a countersuit.
They accuse Hoyle of defaming them and using confidential monastery records to harm the nonprofit organization and its relationship with donors.
The Dimonds want at least $5 million in damages from Hoyle, who is accused of stealing proprietary information from them.
A woman who answered the phone at the monastery number and identified herself as "Sister Ann" said Frederick and Robert Dimond declined to be interviewed for this story.
Sister Ann referred a reporter to the Most Holy Family Monastery Web site for information about the organization.
The site includes a 90-minute audiotape of the Dimonds defending themselves against some of Hoyle's claims.
Robert Dimond says that Hoyle was aware of the monastery's positions on the Catholic Church, which it regards as having gone awry since the Second Vatican Council.
Hoyle's claim that he was deceived is "the height of absurdity," Robert Dimond says in the audiotape.
"What are we most known for? Exposing the Vatican II church and opposing its heretical teachings, its heretical religious orders, and so we're actually being sued for making it look like supposedly we are part of the Vatican II Benedictines when we're not," he says.
The Dimonds use the initials "O.S.B." after their names, apparently to identify themselves as part of the Order of St. Benedict, a worldwide Catholic order of monks established by a sixth century saint.
Benedictine monks are known for following the holy rule of Benedict. In contrast to other hermetic communities, Benedictines impose no unusual austerities. They preach moderation and seek to achieve a balance between manual labor and prayer in their daily lives.
The Most Holy Family Monastery Web site identifies the founder of the community as Brother Joseph Natale, a monk trained at St. Vincent's Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa.
Natale left the abbey in Pennsylvania to form a Benedictine community in New Jersey.
After Natale's death, Frederick Dimond, known as Brother Michael, said he was elected as superior of the community, which he moved in 1997 to Fillmore, where land had been donated to the group.
The Dimonds have since carved out a small niche in the world of traditionalist fringe Catholics, primarily through their mailings and growing Internet presence.
The single-story, vinyl-clad monastery is tucked away on a dirt road in the foothills of northern Allegany County.
Its Web site spells out positions on any number of topics. The group considers Pope Benedict XVI an anti-pope and claims that the pontiff is as "pro-abortion" as some of the United State's most liberal lawmakers. The Dimonds even consider other schismatic traditionalist groups, such as the Society of St. Pius X, as being heretical because their views on who can achieve salvation aren't conservative enough.
In addition, the Dimonds contend that true Catholics should not attend a post-Vatican II Mass, and if the "New Mass" is the only kind available, staying home is preferred and would not be considered sinful. The monastery views priests not ordained in the traditional Latin rite to be invalid.
Such positions are considered radical to most mainstream Catholics, and have caught the attention of clergy and Catholic apologetics groups concerned that the monastery is claiming to present authentic Catholic teaching.
The monastery is neither part of the diocese nor the Catholic Church, said Kevin A. Keenan, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
But that hasn't prevented confused Catholics from inquiring about the monastery and its literature.
"I get calls all the time. People want to know if they're Catholic and I tell them no," said the Rev. Dennis Mancuso, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Fillmore. "I don't know what their status is, but they're certainly not Catholic. I don't know how they can claim to be remotely Catholic at all."
Hoyle, who formerly taught high school chemistry, made his first donation, a check for $700, to Most Holy Family Monastery in 2005. That was followed a month later by another check, this time for $65,000.
Following two visits to the monastery, Hoyle asked to undergo training as a postulant and Frederick Dimond agreed, provided that Hoyle turn over his worldly possessions, according to court papers.
In November of 2005, Hoyle transferred more than a million shares of Guinor Gold Corp., then valued at $1.2 million, to the monastery. He turned over an additional $307,989 in brokerage account assets nearly a year later.
Hoyle, who was known as "Brother Edmund" in the monastery, said he didn't know until after he
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